Faults Underlying Exercise Vigilant GuardStory by: (Author NameStaff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta – 138th Public Affairs Detachment Dated: Thu, Nov 5, 2009 This map illustrates the earthquake fault lines in Western New York. An earthquake in the region is a likely event, says University of Buffalo Professor Dr. Robert Jacobi. TONAWANDA, NY — An earthquake in western New York, the scenario that Exercise Vigilant Guard is built around, is not that far-fetched, according to University of Buffalo geology professor Dr. Robert Jacobi. When asked about earthquakes in the area, Jacobi pulls out a computer-generated state map, cross-hatched with diagonal lines representing geological faults. The faults show that past earthquakes in the state were not random, and could occur again on the same fault systems, he said. “In western New York, 6.5 magnitude earthquakes are possible,” he said. This possibility underlies Exercise Vigilant Guard, a joint training opportunity for National Guard and emergency response organizations to build relationships with local, state, regional and federal partners against a variety of different homeland security threats including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. The exercise was based on an earthquake scenario, and a rubble pile at the Spaulding Fibre site here was used to simulate a collapsed building. The scenario was chosen as a result of extensive consultations with the earthquake experts at the University of Buffalo’s Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), said Brig. Gen. Mike Swezey, commander of 53rd Troop Command, who visited the site on Monday. Earthquakes of up to 7 magnitude have occurred in the Northeastern part of the continent, and this scenario was calibrated on the magnitude 5.9 earthquake which occurred in Saguenay, Quebec in 1988, said Jacobi and Professor Andre Filiatrault, MCEER director. “A 5.9 magnitude earthquake in this area is not an unrealistic scenario,” said Filiatrault. Closer to home, a 1.9 magnitude earthquake occurred about 2.5 miles from the Spaulding Fibre site within the last decade, Jacobi said. He and other earthquake experts impaneled by the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada in 1997 found that there’s a 40 percent chance of 6.5 magnitude earthquake occurring along the Clareden-Linden fault system, which lies about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, Jacobi added. Jacobi and Filiatrault said the soft soil of western New York, especially in part of downtown Buffalo, would amplify tremors, causing more damage. “It’s like jello in a bowl,” said Jacobi. The area’s old infrastructure is vulnerable because it was built without reinforcing steel, said Filiatrault. Damage to industrial areas could release hazardous materials, he added. “You’ll have significant damage,” Filiatrault said. Exercise Vigilant Guard involved an earthquake’s aftermath, including infrastructure damage, injuries, deaths, displaced citizens and hazardous material incidents. All this week, more than 1,300 National Guard troops and hundreds of local and regional emergency response professionals have been training at several sites in western New York to respond these types of incidents. Jacobi called Exercise Vigilant Guard “important and illuminating.” “I’m proud of the National Guard for organizing and carrying out such an excellent exercise,” he said. Training concluded Thursday.
CHINA’S nuclear capabilities are a major source of anxiety throughout the world, particularly in light of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile test earlier this year, which navy chiefs claimed would be weapons that the US would be unable to defend against.
China refuted claims that it had launched a hypersonic missile this year, stating instead that the test was merely a normal spacecraft inspection. For the past few years, relations between the United States and China have been difficult, with Beijing recently accusing US President Joe Biden’s administration of hostility. Several Western countries have spoken out against China’s recent military capabilities, citing alarm over the rapid accumulation of nuclear weapons.
According to a study of recent commercial satellite pictures, suspected silo fields in China are rapidly expanding.
The graphic appears to show Beijing is devoting a significant amount of time and resources to the development of nuclear weapons.
China has made tremendous work on suspected silo fields in the western half of the country, according to experts from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a nonpartisan national security research and advocacy organization.
“For China, this is an unparalleled nuclear buildup,” authors Matt Korda and Hans M. Kristensen stated in the FAS paper, which was released on November 2.
“It’ll be many years before the missile silo fields are fully operational, and it’s unclear how China would arm and operate them.”
The US Navy reported on Monday, November 1 that a nuclear submarine that was seriously damaged in an accident while submerged in the South China Sea last month impacted an uncharted underwater seamount.
Experts have warned that China’s expanding nuclear weapons may quickly turn any future conflict over Taiwan in Beijing’s favor.
For the first time in years, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) nuclear arsenal looks to be developing at a significant rate of modernization and development.
China’s long-range nuclear arsenal is anticipated to surpass 250 warheads in the near future, raising concerns about Beijing’s nuclear capacity.
In late June, it was reported that China was developing its first missile silo field.
In July, another FAS assessment revealed the possible establishment of a second silo field.
“This is the second time in two months the public has uncovered what we have been saying all along about the escalating threat the globe confronts and the shroud of secrecy that surrounds it,” US Strategic Command tweeted at the time.
In 2010, Jakob Kellenberger, the then President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, demonstrated extraordinary courage when he gathered all the accredited ambassadors in Geneva and made it clear that his organisation would not be able to ensure the required international standards of humanitarian assistance to civilian populations in the case of the use of nuclear weapons. In his words, “The mere assumption that atomic weapons may be used, for whatever reason, is enough to make illusory any attempt to protect non-combatants.”
That statement was made on the eve of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York, and was instrumental to the adoption by that conference of the concept of the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”, which nuclear-armed states had traditionally been reluctant to accept. One year earlier, with his historic speech in Prague (in which he promised to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”), President Obama had already prepared the ground for the inclusion of the “catastrophic consequences” principle in the final document of the New York conference. During three international conferences subsequently convened by Norway, Mexico and Austria, the “humanitarian catastrophic” nature of any use of atomic weapons was further confirmed. This concept should be reiterated during the upcoming NPT Review Conference, scheduled for January 2022.
As the world’s leaders gather to discuss how to tackle climate change, it is also necessary to add that the use of nuclear weapons would have dangerous consequences for the environment. The environmental impact of nuclear weapons has been amply evidenced by the over 2000 nuclear tests carried out in deserted and uninhabited areas, while the dangers of radiation have also been demonstrated by the major accidents at the civilian nuclear power plants of Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Today the environmental impact of a nuclear attack on inhabited centres and industrial areas can only be calculated through simulations. The deadly environmental effects of the two bombs that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki can hardly be considered a precedent since they would pale in comparison to what would happen if only part of the 13,000 nuclear devices currently possessed by the nuclear powers were to be detonated today. Studies on the environmental side of the nuclear coin have intensified in parallel with the growing nightmare of climate change and the increase of nuclear risks. While there are debates over the precise modelling (such as a controversy between scientists over whether an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange would be enough to cause a global nuclear winter), multiple studies raise alarming prospects that in the event of a nuclear conflict, there would be shocks akin to climate change, but on a much faster timescale and with an exponential impact.
Nonetheless, the international community and the nuclear-armed states have not yet drawn political conclusions from the anticipated environmental impacts of the use of nuclear weapons. This concept has so far only been mentioned in some official texts (the Partial Test Ban Treaty, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons), while the ENMOD (Environmental Modification Convention) Treaty adopted in 1978 is mostly focused on prohibiting the hostile use of environmental weather modification techniques but does not address the nuclear threat.
In his memorable statement on 11th November 2017 at the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed his “genuine concern” for the “catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices”. More recently, on 28thOctober of this year, an event chaired by World Future Council and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament was dedicated to the Climate /Nuclear Disarmament Nexus. Climate protection and nuclear risk reduction were the core subjects debated during the meeting which was called in preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) and the incoming NPT RevCon.
This is the first step. A process similar to the 2010 humanitarian initiative should be launched during next year’s NPT conference, leading to the recognition of the “catastrophic environmental consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”. Hopefully, on the occasion of that conference, one or more international leaders will have the vision to promote this topic as Jakob Kellenberger did in 2010. The tragic consequences of climate change will be dramatically amplified if the Damocles sword of a nuclear disaster continues hanging over humanity.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network (ELN) or any of its members, or the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.
China has reportedly tested a new strategic weapon: a fractional orbital bombardment system armed with a hypersonic glide vehicle. What exactly does this weapon do and what is the threat to the United States?
Peter Brookes, a senior research fellow focusing on weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation at The Heritage Foundation, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to shed some light on this startling development. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
“This weapon—because of its unlimited range—could be flown over the South Pole towards the United States, which would give it certain capabilities that would be difficult to defend against,” Brookes explains. “For years and years, going back to the Cold War, we have developed our radar capabilities looking towards things coming over the North Pole or from east and west, and not from the south.”
Christian Mysliwiec: This is Christian Mysliwiec, and our guest today is Peter Brookes, The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation. Peter, thanks so much for joining me today.
Peter Brookes: Good to be with you.
Mysliwiec: You recently published an article in The Daily Signal about how China tested a new hypersonic weapon over the summer. Now I’d like to talk more about what hypersonic weapons are and how they work. But before we get to that, what do these tests mean for the U.S.? What is the potential impact on America and other countries?
But yeah, this challenges our interests and it’s part of China’s recent increase in the capabilities of their strategic forces. This is a strategic weapon. The warhead that it carries could be conventional or strategic, a nuclear weapon.
And they’ve also—as I’ve written in The Daily Signal recently—talked about how they’re increasing their land-based nuclear capabilities as well, as well as that at sea. They also have an at sea deterrent.
So this is not good news considering the tensions between China and the United States right now. And it certainly gives China a leverage internationally with its agenda, which doesn’t necessarily comport with that of the United States or our friends and allies.
Mysliwiec: Right. Now, what is the potential range and how much damage can this weapon inflict?
Brookes: Well, as I mentioned, it has unlimited range because basically what the Chinese are doing with this weapon—once again, this long-term, this fractional-orbital bombardment system—is they’re launching a hypersonic glide vehicle on a space-launch vehicle.
So picture this in your mind. It’s going to piggyback on the space-launch vehicle into low-Earth orbit, and then it will circle the globe. And then the hypersonic-glide vehicle will detach from what some people call the mothership or the space-launch vehicle, and then find its way to its target.
So essentially because you’re putting it into orbit, it has unlimited range. And interestingly enough … in the Northern hemisphere, the most common approach for weapons delivery to the United States—towards the United States—would probably come over the North Pole, Russia, China. This weapon—because of its unlimited range—could be flown over the South Pole towards the United States, which would give it certain capabilities that would be difficult to defend against because we really, for years and years, going back to the Cold War, we have developed our radar capabilities looking towards things coming over the North Pole or from east and west and not from the south.
Mysliwiec: Right. So General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff … referred to this as very close to a Sputnik moment. So what do you think of that assessment?
Brookes: It’s very striking coming from the senior military advisor to the president of the United States. I wouldn’t have put it necessarily in that category, but it’s reasonable to say so.
This is a new type of weapon that the Chinese are developing to advance their agenda. And some of that, like I said, goes up against the desires of the United States. It’s extremely difficult to defend against. In fact, as a matter of fact, it’s extremely difficult to acquire with sensors and to track. And I’d love to hear what the chairman has to say as to why he said that. But it’s being said by a lot of our military and senior military members, talking about this as a strategic breakout.
Now, of course, China has tested this weapon, and supposedly tested it twice this summer. It’s possible that there are going to be more tests. It has not yet been deployed and we’ll have to see how many of them are deployed, if they’re deployed. And then how many to see what the real threat is.
Now going back to Sputnik in 1957, that was the beginning of the ICBM age, the intercontinental ballistic missile age. And because the Soviets were able to put Sputnik into orbit, send it around the earth, meant that they could reach any place on the Earth’s surface with a rocket. And they eventually developed that capability and so did the United States. And we were just slightly behind them, but they did develop that capability first.
So in this case, the United States does not have a similar weapon. And for many years, we were actually involved in the development of hypersonic weapons until sequestration in 2014, which cut the defense budgets and hypersonic weapon research and development was dropped.
So we’re a bit behind. It doesn’t mean that we can’t develop this capability if we decide we need it, but we’ll have to see if the Chinese do deploy it. If it’s successful. I mean, remember a lot of weapons systems are tested and never put into a deployment or into operational status. And then how many of them they will deploy.
So there are still a lot of questions, but it is very striking when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chairman, or the commander of strategic command and others, make these very, very strong comments because they have access to information that you and I don’t hopefully. Right.
So it’s important to understand that they have different assessments, different information, different intelligence at their fingertips, that they can make those judgements and those statements based upon.
So it is very striking and it is very concerning. And I look forward to hearing more about it and why he chose those words specifically.
Mysliwiec: Right. So you mentioned that two tests were conducted during the summer. Now Beijing has denied that it was testing a weapon, like you said, that it’s put into low orbit through another spacecraft and then it would detach from that craft to reach its target. So they said that they were just launching a reusable space vehicle, like those used by SpaceX. Is that right?
Brookes: Yeah, that’s what they’re saying, and there’s no surprise there. The Chinese are not known for their transparency, especially in nuclear issues. In fact, the United States has been trying to talk to China about nuclear issues for a long, long time, including back when I was in the Pentagon during the Bush administration. The Chinese didn’t really want to talk about it.
It’s still a problem. The difference now between now and 20 years ago is that the Chinese have made great strides in their nuclear capabilities. They’ve sent submarines to sea so that means they even have sea deterrent. It’s a small at sea deterrent, but still, it’s something that they’re, direction they’re moving in. They also have, they are developing nuclear bombers. That was not really something that they were really interested in. They’re using some older Badger bombers from the Soviet era.
And they’re also developing a new bomber as well, that will probably carry a nuclear weapon.
And then of course their land-based capability is growing significantly. In fact, our senior military leaders say that their land-based nuclear capability will increase by three to four times over the next decade.
So they’re putting a tremendous emphasis on their nuclear capability. In fact, just a few years ago, they elevated their strategic rocket forces, which is the force that deals with nuclear weapons to its own individual service.
As we recently did with space force, we made it its own individual service. The Chinese did this with their strategic rocket forces, which shows the priority and emphasis that they’re placing on strategic weapons.
So a lot of things to be concerned about. This one is very interesting obviously because of the new technologies we’re seeing. And the Chinese think they can get away with saying that this is just a reusable space vehicle, but the fact of the matter is, is that we know better.
And at some point this warhead or this glide vehicle—this hypersonic glide vehicle—could carry a conventional warhead, a nuclear warhead, or just use its tremendously high speed. I mean, anything to be considered hypersonic will travel more than five mock—five times the speed of sound—and we’re talking about five mock is about one mile per second, very, very high speed. But because of the kinetic energy behind something that travels that fast, it can actually just use its vehicle, the hypersonic glide vehicle as a weapon and attack a target just using that kinetic energy.
Mysliwiec: Right. Right. So we used the term hypersonic glide vehicle, like we saw vehicle, but the thing itself acts like a missile, right? It’s going on a one-way trip.
Brookes: I would say it acts more like a plane because it’s maneuverable.
Brookes: That’s another thing. Yeah. I mean, so what happens is, is once again, I mean, this is hard to do on a podcast without graphic. And I would recommend that people take a look on the internet to see what I’m talking about, but it would be launched on the space-launch vehicle. And then it will go into lower orbit.
And at some point, depending on the target, the hypersonic-glide vehicle will separate from the space-launch vehicle and go on its own way and it may travel further or shorter, and then it will deorbit. It will come out of low orbit at great speed and it can maneuver its way to a target, which makes it very difficult to defend against because it’s going so fast and it’s maneuverable.
If it were just coming out of space and just dropping out space and it had a predictable trajectory, it would be much easier to defend against. So the maneuverability is something, it’s almost like an airplane that would be carrying some sort of warhead towards its target and but it’s unmanned in this case.
Mysliwiec: The United States, what does it need to do to develop some sort of defense against this? Or any nation?
Brookes: Well, there’s a lot of, you’re right and it may not just be the United States, but I think the United States considering the competition, the great power competition going on between the United States and China and Russia, is the prime target here, of this.
I mean the Chinese and the United States have different interests on a number of important issues, including the issue of Taiwan. The Chinese feel that the United States currently outguns China in terms of nuclear weapons. So does Russia. And I think my sense is that China wants to reach parity or near parity with United States and Russia so it can sit at the table with the most powerful nuclear states in the world and have their say.
China is extremely assertive today, especially in its international relation. I mentioned Taiwan is also the issue of the South China Sea which is a million square miles of ocean that China considers to be basically a Chinese lake. They say this is indisputable Chinese sovereign territory.
And at some point as they develop their navy and their air force, which is happening—it is developing at a tremendous rate—they may try to exercise sovereignty control over that massive water, which carries trillions of dollars of commerce every year.
So the Chinese are involved in this program to increase their capabilities, certainly militarily, which provides leverage and backing to their diplomatic efforts. But in terms of responses, I mean, obviously we have to have strong diplomacy. We have to have a strong footing and working in the world and work with our ally. China, like I said, we’re probably the primary target, but Japan also has historic issues with China.
Russia and China are currently working together a lot, but I don’t see them as natural ally. And I think someday they may go in different direction and in the past they have. Remember during the Cold War, the Sino-Soviet split. In 1972, [former President Richard] Nixon went to Beijing to open relations and played the China card against the Soviet Union.
So at some point I think right now the Chinese and Russians are playing each other’s cards against the United States as they work together, but they’re not natural allies. And I think frictions will evolve over time.
But United States should be working with allies on these issues. And that includes not just in Asia, but also in Europe. There’s tremendous capabilities in Europe to try to find ways to deal with these new and evolving weapon.
Of course, as you know, we just published the index of military strength and increasing conventional deterrents is critically important, recapitalizing our military because if you can deter somebody conventionally and prevent yourself from getting to the level of nuclear gamesmanship, brinkmanship, you’re in a much better place. So conventional deterrents is critically important. That means our regular forces not our nuclear force.
But we also need to press ahead with our nuclear modernization. And our colleague Patty-Jane Geller has written extensively about that. We need to modernize these nuclear capabilities so we can once again, have that strategic deterrence against anything China might do at a conventional or nuclear level.
Missile defenses are still very important. Some people out there say, well, this is why China’s developing it because the missile defenses, but every country has a right to defend itself.
And the United States has made great strides in terms of missile defense and missile defense is not only for strategic weapons. It’s also for missiles of shorter range. So moving ahead with missile defense is critically important.
We also need to improve our ability to acquire and track these sort of targets, which probably means better space surveillance and tracking, critically important that we have that capability. And it’s something that we haven’t developed the means to yet to deal with these cutting edge sort of weapons.
And I think we also need to pressure China directly and indirectly through friends, allies, and partners to engage in arms control talks. The Trump administration brought this up. They were saying, in fact, in some of the treaties with Russia, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which we left under the Trump administration. One was because Russia was in material breach of that treaty. And the other is that China has more missiles than Russia, and China was not playing a role in arms control, especially on this issue.
So we need to get China involved in arms control. It’s critically important. At least have an understanding, a better understanding of when they would use weapons, their doctrine. And this can be gained during these sorts of conversations and meetings, but the Chinese don’t want talk about it.
And one of the other things that I’m really concerned about is that there is a change in Chinese doctrine. For a long, long time they had a minimal deterrent strategy. In other words, just enough weapons to be able to strike back if somebody were to strike them. They’re moving beyond that now. In fact, a U.S. Air Force think tank said that China may have as many missiles—land-based [intercontinental ballistic missiles]—as the United States in the years to come, as many land-based [intercontinental ballistic missiles] as we have minute-man missiles. And this is of concern.
So as you develop greater capabilities and as you develop new technologies, your doctrine might change. So we may have had an idea that China was just involved in a second-strike capability, but now are they thinking about a first-strike capability? In other words, trying to take out command-and-control complexes, nuclear weapons, conventional forces first before a war starts. I mean, this is of tremendous concern.
And China had always said they had a no first-use policy, which said, “We will never strike first. We only strike in response.” And people are wondering about that since they are developing these tremendous capabilities at sea, on the land. And obviously these new, exotic or novel weapons such as the hypersonic-glide vehicle on a fractional-bombardment system, orbital-bombardment system. So there’s a lot of things to be concerned about regarding the changes in China’s nuclear capabilities and potentially doctrine.
Mysliwiec: So you mentioned that one way to kind of curb the potentially use of these weapons is some sort of arms-control treaty. Why would they agree to enter into such a treaty? What bargaining chip does the United States have?
Brookes: Under the current Chinese leadership, I don’t see them having any desire to do that. That’s why there needs to be additional international pressure from beyond the United States. I think China is on—everybody agrees with me—but I think China’s on a path to achieving the near parity or parity with the United States and Russia on these weapons before they will come to the table to negotiate. Maybe they won’t even come to the table at that. Maybe they plan to supersede, supersede us.
For instance, Christian, they put in last week, interestingly, civilian researchers last summer, and I wrote about this several times, found through commercial satellite, found 250 new Chinese [intercontinental ballistic missile] silos. Now, China, prior to that only had 20.
Mysliwiec: Oh wow.
Brookes: And they had 100 mobile ICBMs. So they had 20 land based silos. And then researchers found around 250 new ones. OK. So China can put in a missile in those, or not put a missile in. Maybe they’re meant to fool us. Could be one of these sort of things, we don’t know how many missiles are in there. We don’t know if they’re all full, if they’re all empty, but they’re building 250 new silos.
So say for instance, they filled them all, 250 new missiles and they’re newest [intercontinental ballistic missile] is the DF-41. And that missile can potentially carry five to 10 MIRVs, which is a multiple-warhead package. In other words, in the warhead or the nose cone of the missile there would be a number of nuclear weapons, not just one. And they can all be independently targeted at different targets. So imagine that.
And the United States right now has 1,550 operational nuclear weapons. So if you put 250 in there and you put five to 10 in there, say if you put 10 in there, that’s 2,500 new operational [intercontinental ballistic missiles] on the Chinese side.
So this could be a reality. I mean, China is prioritizing its military buildup, including conventionally and strategically. So this is something to be concerned about. So say if China develops this capability, they exceed the U.S. capability that’s currently restricted by the New START Treaty with Russia. And all of a sudden they have more nuclear weapons than us. And what are we going to do if they say they’re going to change Taiwan’s future militarily, which the United States is firmly against? but there are real concerns there, as you can see.
Mysliwiec: Right. All right. I want to end just by going back to the hypersonic weapon. So after testing, what is the next step? Like when could they conceivably start to use these against adversaries?
Brookes: Well, this hypersonic vehicle supposedly missed its attended target by 25 miles. But if it were nuclear-capable, that doesn’t mean as much. Right.
Brookes: You don’t have to be exacting, if you were just using the vehicle itself and it’s kinetic energy, to do something, you’d probably have to hit it pretty close on. A conventional weapon would have a bigger area. It would cover high explosive and then a nuclear weapon. So 25 miles sounds like a lot, but it depends on what it’s targeting. Right. And what it’s warhead is. So that’s obviously a concern.
Now, each country does things a little bit differently. The United States tests things for a long time to make sure they’re going to work. And there’s a lot of good reasons for that, but it also takes us a long time to field capabilities. The Chinese may or not spend as much time doing that. And they may even field it while they’re still testing. You can also field something and then still continue to test it and refine it. But when they field it, then they had an impact because they will have created a deterrent effect, a perception of a capability that we would have to deal with.
So we’ll have to see exactly where they go with this and in what sort of numbers. Is this going to be a small number or is it going to be a large number that are going to be fielded or deployed? And will they field it early and or continue to work on testing? So those are into the to see category right now.
Mysliwiec: All right. Well, Peter Brookes, thank you so much for joining me
BAGHDAD–Political talks between Shia factions in Iraq have fleshed out two different trends in the competition for the premiership as well as a readiness to accept a compromise to overcome the current logjam caused by the results of the October general election.
Although the bloc led by Muqtada al-Sadr won a clear lead in the Shia districts, which placed it in a comfortable negotiating position, it failed to garner sufficient seats to allow it to be the dominant party in the next government. This has prompted other Shia parties to join ranks as part of the so-called “coordination framework”.
Observers say that the situation that emerged from the 2021 elections is akin to that in 2010 when the two Shia blocs won by a close margin. As a result of the October poll, the Sadrist bloc controls 74 seats, while the seats the “coordination framework” forces control an overall total of some 70 seats.
So far, Sadr has not been able to find a Shia ally within the “coordination framework” in order to a larger majority, before starting negotiations over portfolios in the next government with Sunnis and Kurds.
However, within the Sadrist bloc and the “coordination framework,” two trends as well as a possible compromise have emerged over the premiership candidacy and the distribution of Shia ministerial portfolios.
The Sadrist bloc backs reappointing Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the current prime minister, to form the new government. If objections to Khadimi come from the “coordination framework,” which includes representatives of the Shia militias loyal to Iran and the Rule of Law coalition led by Nuri al-Maliki and others, the Sadrists would prefer to appoint a senior officer from the Iraqi army to head the next government.
And if this option also fails, Muqtada al-Sadr will nominate former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to form the new cabinet.
Although Abadi is part of the Shia “coordination framework” forces, he is close to Sadr, Kadhimi and moderate political forces, but has been forced to coordinate with pro-Iran factions because of his resounding defeat in recent elections.
Iraqi political writer Masar Abdul Mohsen Radi believes that Sadr will only choose a political party figure.
Talking to The Arab Weekly, Radi suggested that choosing Haider al-Abadi to form the next government will undermine Maliki’s political standing.
He said, “Choosing Abadi means destroying Maliki’s presidency of the Dawa Party.”
The “coordination framework” forces prefer to endorse Maliki’s nomination but would not say so publicly. Instead, it floats names such as that of the current National Security Adviser Qassem al-Araji, Basra Governor Asaad al-Eidani, former Youth Minister Abdul-Hussein Abtan and MP Muhammad Shiaa al-Sudani.
The same names currently circulating within the “coordination framework” have been been mentioned during various government formation talks since 2014, with none of them having a serious chance of being chosen. This suggests that they are all test balloons for media consumption.
Sources familiar with the negotiations indicate that the Sadrist bloc and the “coordination framework” are expected to postpone the choice of the candidate for prime minister until agreement is reached on dividing ministries among the different parties within the overall Shia quota and then choosing each minister.
Sources told an Arab Weekly correspondent in Baghdad that this scenario, which appears to be advancing with the help of Iranian mediation, will mean granting the Sadrist bloc six portfolios in the new government and the same number to the “coordination framework” parties.
The sources say that trying to forge an internal Shia consensus at this stage may mean, to a large extent, agreeing on Kadhimi, or, to a slightly lesser degree, choosing Abadi.
Analysts say such speculation reflects the magnitude of the decline in Iranian influence, as Kadhimi and Abadi, both Shia, are considered allies of the Arab Gulf countries and the United States and are not acceptable to pro-Iran Shia hard liners.
Iraqi political writer Hamid Al-Kafaei said, “the winning forces should not give up their right to form a government because such a concession has had dire consequences in 2010 when we ignored election results and allowed the losing forces to form a government.”
According to sectarian quotas that have become the political norm in Iraq, the position of prime minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces belongs the Shia majority.
Kafaei said, “The Iraqi people want change and want a new, efficient, loyal government that will pull the country out of the abyss and address the urgent problems that have weakened and disintegrated the country, primarily confronting the armed militias linked to Iran and stripping them of the official legitimacy which the former parliament gave them during the era of Haider al-Abadi.
He added, “Kadhimi’s government failed in all the tasks that it was supposed to address, the first of which is the task of prosecuting the killers of the demonstrators, fighting corruption, doing justice to the poor and the deprived and improving services, so renewing its term in office renewal would be a grave mistake. Abadi’s government had also failed in the past and the country is still suffering from its failures. Besides, it is not right to bring a loser in the elections to lead the government.”
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia sent two nuclear-capable strategic bombers on a training mission over Belarus for a second straight day on Thursday in a strong show of Moscow’s support for its ally amid a dispute over migration at the Polish border.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry said two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers practiced bombing runs at the Ruzany firing range, located in Belarus about 60 kilometers (just over 37 miles) east of the border with Poland. As part of the joint training, Belarusian fighter jets simulated an intercept, the ministry said.
A pair of Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flew a similar patrol on Wednesday, and Belarusian air defense assets practiced intercepting them.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry said that such Russian bomber flights will be conducted on a regular basis.
The Russian military said the bombers spent over 4 1/2 hours in the air during the mission intended to buttress the countries’ alliance. It said the bomber patrol “wasn’t aimed against any third countries.”
But Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that “it is a response to a massive build-up on the Polish-Belarusian border
Russia has strongly supported Belarus amid a tense standoff this week as thousands of migrants and refugees, most of them from the Middle East, gathered on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland in the hope of crossing into Western Europe.
Polyansky pointed to the union between Russia and Belarus and said that “if there is a build-up of military resources on the border with Belarus, we have to react.”
The European Union has accused Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko of encouraging illegal border crossings as a “hybrid attack” to retaliate against EU sanctions on his government for its crackdown on internal dissent after Lukashenko’s disputed 2020 reelection.
Belarus denies the allegations but has said it will no longer stop refugees and migrants from trying to enter the EU.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry accused Poland on Thursday of an “unprecedented” military buildup on the border, saying that migration control did not warrant the concentration of 15,000 troops backed by tanks, air defense assets and other weapons.
“It looks more like forming a strike group of forces,” the ministry said, adding that the Polish military buildup prompted Belarus to respond with actions “both independently and within the existing agreements with our strategic ally,” a reference to Russia.
Russia and Belarus have a union agreement envisaging close political and military ties. Lukashenko has stressed the need to boost military cooperation in the face of what he has described as aggressive actions by NATO allies.
Lukashenko on Thursday called the Russian bomber flights a necessary response to the tensions on the Belarus-Poland border.
“Let them scream and squeak. Yes, those are nuclear-capable bombers, but we have no other choice,” the president, who has been in office since 1994, said.
Col. Gen. Retired Leonid Ivashov, the former head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s foreign cooperation department, said the Russian bomber flights over Belarus were intended to demonstrate Moscow’s support for its ally amid soaring tensions.
“Military drills and bomber flights are part of training for joint action,” Ivashov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying. “It’s needed to avert a possible military conflict that could escalate into a big war. It’s necessary to demonstrate our readiness.”
Amid the tensions on the Belarus-Poland border, Russia has strongly backed Belarus, charging that the West destabilized the Middle East and therefore bears responsibility for migrants and refugees seeking safety in Europe.
At the same time, Moscow angrily rejected Poland’s claim that Russia has helped foment a situation with humanitarian as well as political dimensions.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted the thousands of troops that have been deployed on either side of the Polish-Belarusian border and said “it’s a cause for deep concern of all sober-minded people in Europe.”
Asked about German Chancellor Merkel’s request for Russian President Vladimir Putin to exert his influence on Belarus, Peskov responded that “Russia, like all other countries, is trying to help resolve the situation.” He said Putin has remained in contact with Lukashenko, but didn’t elaborate.
Russia’s national flag carrier, Aeroflot, responded to reports that the EU was mulling sanctions against the airline for its alleged involvement in bringing to refugees and migrants to Belarus. Aeroflot strongly rejected the claim.
“The information about Aeroflot’s participation or assistance to organizing mass transportation of migrants to the territory of Belarus doesn’t conform to reality,” the airline said in a statement.
Aeroflot noted that it wasn’t conducting any regular or charter flights to Iraq or Syria and didn’t have any flights between Istanbul and Minsk.
Asked about the reports of possible EU sanctions against Aeroflot, Kremlin spokesman Peskov pointed to the airline’s denial of knowingly transporting Europe-bound asylum-seekers.
“Let hope that such mad ideas only exist in those media hoaxes,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
In 2016, Japan eliminated its stockpile of nuclear weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU) from its Fast Critical Assembly research reactor by sending the material to the United States for disposal.
The cache had been estimated at 215 kilograms, sufficient for at least eight nuclear weapons.
Japan’s action contributed to a multi-decade global effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by ridding the world of HEU, either by closing facilities or converting them to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel that is unsuitable for weapons.
Supplied photo shows Alan J. Kuperman. (Kyodo)
As a senior U.S. official declared, “Japan has been one of the United States’ staunchest allies in the global effort to minimize, and when possible eliminate, the use of sensitive nuclear materials…This strong partnership has helped the international community ensure that these materials never find their way into the hands of criminals, terrorists, or other unauthorized actors.”
Each ship’s reactor would contain about 500 kg of HEU, so Australia would receive four tonnes of HEU, sufficient for more than 160 nuclear bombs. That is nearly 20 times as much HEU as Japan voluntarily gave up in 2016.
Other countries that are seeking nuclear submarines — including South Korea and Iran — could insist that they too require HEU fuel, either imported or produced domestically.
This would open the floodgates to weapons proliferation, because such countries legally could block inspections of their naval fuel for decades under a loophole in international safeguards agreements.
Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida needs no instruction on the dangers of HEU, considering that he represents Hiroshima, the only place HEU ever has been used in war.
HEU is the easiest path to a nuclear weapon because a critical mass can be formed simply by slamming two pieces together, as on Aug. 6, 1945.
A U.S. physicist who helped make that bomb, Luis Alvarez, later wrote that with “modern weapons-grade uranium…terrorists, if they had such materials, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion, simply by dropping one-half of the material on the other half.”
Kishida has a chance to engage his two “Quad” allies, Australia and the United States, during AUKUS’s 18-month consultation period, to suggest three alternatives.
First, Australia could insist that its partners provide submarines fueled by lifetime LEU cores, which the U.S. government has been developing since 2016.
Alternatively, Australia could switch to buying nuclear submarines from France, which already has converted its own to LEU fuel.
A final option would be for Australia to revert to conventional submarines, which are less expensive and thus could enable a larger fleet that experts say would achieve better coastal defense.
Japan is the nation that knows best the horror of atomic bombs, so it has special standing and responsibility to counsel its allies to modify a plan that risks spreading such deadly weapons.
(Alan J. Kuperman, Ph.D., is associate professor and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (www.NPPP.org) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, and editor of Nuclear Terrorism and Global Security: The Challenge of Phasing out Highly Enriched Uranium (Routledge).)